February 22, 2013
1 Samuel 15:1-34
This haftarah is the second of the four special haftarot that precede Pesach. In order to understand this haftarah we have to begin with a discussion of the Amalekites. The Amalekites first appear in Exodus chapter 17. The Israelites had just crossed the Sea of Reeds and Pharaoh's army had been destroyed in the rushing waters. There we are told, "Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim." (Exodus 17:8). Finally, after a fierce battle the Israelites prevail, and God says to Moses, "Inscribe this in a document as a reminder and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven". (Exodus 17:14)
What is so problematic about Amalek that God should respond this way? No other enemy is given the same kind of reaction, not even the Egyptians! Only later on in Deuteronomy do we find out the reason. "Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt - how, undeterred by fear of God he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers at your rear...you shall blot out the name of Amalek. Do not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:17-18,20). It is this last passage which is read this Shabbat for the maftir portion, and it gives us the name of this week's special haftarah, Zachor (Remember). We are commanded this week, the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim, to especially remember the Amalekites and their war against our ancestors.
What is so special about this week that we should want to "remember" the Amalekites? The reason for this has to do with the connection between the maftir portion, the haftarah and the Scroll of Esther. Amalek was introduced to us in the Torah passages cited above. The haftarah relates how the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites continued throughout the ages. The text is from I Samuel 15 and tells of the battle between the first Israelite King, Saul, and the Amalekite King, Agag. King Saul is commanded by God to utterly destroy the Amalikites and all of their property. Yet after defeating them, Saul keeps Agag alive, and does not destroy the sheep and other useful animals. As punishment for disobeying God's command to utterly destroy the Amelikites, the kingship is taken by the prophet Samuel from Saul and will (later) be given to David.
Historically our teachers have used the metaphor of Haman to serve as the incarnation of our ultimate enemy and the Jewish people as his intended victiom. I would suggest we would be better served if we concentrated more on the reasons for Saul's failure. Saul, like most of us, had tragic flaws. His failure to deliver was reflection of his inability to think things through. He took the easy road made himself popular by distributing the wealth of the Agagites to his troops and lost his kingship. Saturday night we will read the Scroll of Esther, which tells of the ongoing battle between the wicked Haman and the righteous Mordecai. In a very subtle way, that text reminds us that this is a continuation of our maftir and haftarah. Mordecai is described as a member of the tribe of Benjamin, descended from a man named Kish. Who is Kish? He is none other than the father of King Saul! Hamen's ancestors are also described to us in a similarly subtle way. Though not identified as an Amalikite, he is called Ha-Agagi, that is from the family of Agag, the same Agag who was King of the Amalekites! Thus the enmity, which began in the maftir, and continued in the haftarah, finds its conclusion in the meggilah. There are times when we must take the hard road, which doesn't always appear to be the high road in order to achieve the desired results.
Of course, the idea of totally destroying another people is problematic to Jewish morals and ethics. Over the centuries the destruction of the Amalekites came to be understood to mean the eradication of evil. When that will finally occur in this world, there will be reason to celebrate. How appropriate it is that our celebration of Purim is seen as a taste of what a world without evil will be like.
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by
Rabbi Steve Kane, Congregation Sons of Israel, Briarcliff Manor, NY.
Recognizing our Maasim Tovim
Doer of Good Deeds Honorees
New England Region
Mark Druy grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mark settled in the Boston area in 1981 after earning an undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Brown University and a doctorate degree in Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Mark and his wife Johanna were married in 1984 and live in Arlington, MA. Their oldest daughter, Shaina is a graduate of the University of Vermont with a Bachelors of Science in Finance and their youngest, Naomi, is a junior at the University of Vermont majoring in Mechanical Engineering. Johanna is a self-employed management consultant and is the author of several books on the staffing and management of high technology product development organizations. Mark is a business and product development manager for an analytical instrumentation company in Andover. In their spare time, Mark & Johanna are avid ballroom dancers. Mark is also an accomplished downhill skier and bicyclist. In particular, he enjoys riding his bike for numerous charities including Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and the New England Region Tour de Shuls ride (of which he is a co-chair) to support the Tikvah program at Camp Ramah of New England.
Mark is a past president, treasurer, and recording secretary of the Temple Emunah Brotherhood and currently serves as the President of Temple Emunah, Lexington, MA. Prior to his term as President, Mark was the Vice President of Programming and Executive Vice President of Temple Emunah. He is currently the co-chair of the 2013 FJMC Convention, a member of the FJMC Executive Committee, and the Honorary President of the New England Region, in which he has previously held Treasurer and Vice Presidential responsibilities.